As I roll into Banff National Park, my memory begins to take over. I have little control over what I do. Without thinking, I turn down off at the first highway exit and towards town. I turn right then left, and find myself in front of the shop yard at Brewster where I used to driver charter buses throughout university. Habit took me down this road, and I shake my head clear it before twisting around and heading the right way into town.
As I drive through downtown, nothing seems to have really changed. On mainstreet, Japanese tourists still wander excitedly with ice cream cones as guides carrying flags lead them around. There are still more candy shops than banks, and more restaurants than locals. It’s still stunning. The imposing Cascade Mountain almost seems aligned with mainstreet and it stands proudly, almost casting an early shadow on lively downtown Banff.
I leave town to head to the Juniper Hotel, where I’ll stay. The rail station still stands modestly behind the Brewster Transportation Center where I spent many summer nights sleeping between work shifts. I’m sure the train still blares every couple hours here as it passes through town. It used to wake me up every time it did.
I drive up to the train tracks, stop, and throw on my four-way blinkers before realizing that’s completely unnecessary in a car. Again, habit has taken over. I don’t think I’ve ever actually driven a non-bus vehicle in this town. I swing up the hill and into the Juniper Hotel. Of all the things familiar in this town, I’ve never once been up here.
Though the exterior is old, the interior of the Juniper is modern and classy. The staff is welcoming, and I can’t help but feel I have the place to myself. I walk into my room and slide open the balcony glass.
The view over Banff is unreal, and from here I can see nearly all of it. The town sits nestled between Sulpher and Rundle Mountains, while Tunnel Mountain peeks into the scene begging for attention. A mist lingers over Vermilion Lakes, the river meanders through the valley, and the Banff Springs Hotel pokes through the trees majestically.
As the light fades on the day, I cruise back into town and park at Bow Falls. I’ve been here a million times before, and I have never taken a picture of it. I peel out the legs of my travel tripod and take a couple photos.
I come to realize that the beauty of travel is that visiting the same place at different times in your life offers a different perspective and a different view. It means you can never really go everywhere. Though my eyes have seen this scene before, it has never there been in this exact light. My life has never been in its current circumstances, and that same water has never flowed down Bow Falls.
At the end of the day, the world around us is what we make of it. We can travel around the world and still never truly explore, or we can pull ourselves into the world that surrounds us, even at home, and make the decision to explore with that curious eye that makes travel so special. When all said and done, travel has nothing to do with distance from home, but the curiosity in which your eye explores its surroundings.